This month, I’ve been reading a book called Eat For Life by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This book covers his nutrient-rich program for longevity, disease reversal and sustained weight loss that revolves around a whole foods plant-based diet. While reading this book, I came across a fascinating chart that Dr. Fuhrman had developed. This chart listed over 150 different foods and assigned them a Nutrient IQ score. What is a Nutrient IQ score? Apparently, it’s a score that resembles the amount of nutrients within a food based upon serving size. For example, a nutrient-dense food like a 1/4 cup of Red Pepper receives a score of 60 while a nutrient-lacking food like 2oz of Cheese receives a 2. This scoring system piqued my interest as it’s meant to help track the quality of one’s diet. And since I’m continually looking to improve my nutrition, I took this opportunity to evaluate the nutrient quality of the foods I regularly consume.
General Nutrient IQ Scores of Food Groups
To give you an idea of the Nutrient IQ scores provided in the book, I created the table below. This table shows the average Nutrient IQ score for various food groups like cruciferous vegetables (arugula, broccoli, kale, radishes, etc.), whole grains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, etc.) and a few other groups. This chart can be used to help understand which foods are “healthiest” to consume.
|Food Group||Avg Nutrient IQ|
|Most Other Vegetables||60|
|Fast Food, Factory Food, Junk Food||0|
Based upon this data, we can clearly tell that our number one priority for health should be to consume whole foods (vegetables, beans, etc.) over processed foods (fast food, factory food, junk food). This is because all processed foods were assigned a value of zero. Thus, meaning that they provide almost no nutritional value and are detrimental to our health. This is why the first step in my 3-Step Guide to Nutrition requests that you Eat Whole Foods.
The second thing that we can tell is plant-based foods are far more favorable to animal-based products. For example, the highest-ranking animal product is wild caught salmon which is rated a 7. But most other animal products like beef, pork and lamb are rated a zero. This is because there aren’t a ton of nutritional benefits in animal-based products compared to plants. This confirms why the second step in my 3-Step Guide to Nutrition requests you to Stay Plant-Based.
So, although I already had a general understanding of which foods were nutrient-dense or nutrient-poor, there were still a few foods that surprised me. Foods that I consumed regularly under the impression that I was eating as healthy as possible when there were healthier alternatives available. Below, are the 5 foods swaps I’ve made to improve my nutrition even more based upon their Nutrient IQ scores.
Steel Cut Oats > Old Fashion Oats > Instant Oats
I start nearly every morning with a bowl of oatmeal mixed with berries, nuts, seeds and spices. This sounds like a healthy way to start the morning and it likely is, but I never thought about the type of oats I was consuming. I assumed all oats were equally healthy and always chose instant oats because they were the quickest to make. But, after seeing instant oat’s Nutrient IQ score of 4, old fashion oat’s score of 19, and steel cut oat’s score of 26, I knew my assumption was incorrect.
Oats are healthy. Very healthy. But, only in their minimally processed form. Steel cut oats are minimally processed. They’re essentially oat groats that have been chopped up a few times. That’s why they’re rated a 26 which is pretty high. Old fashion oats on the other hand are oat groats that have been steamed and then flattened. There isn’t a lot of processing that happens with this method but it’s more than steel cut which is why it’s rated a 19. Lastly, there are instant oats. Instant oats are pre-cooked, dried, rolled and then pressed. That’s a lot of processing. And the more foods are processed by precooking, drying and chopping, the more nutrients they lose along the way. You may not see this on food labels either because the calories, fiber, protein, and carbohydrate quantity are almost identical. But in terms of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, there’s a substantial difference. And this is why the Nutrient IQ scores range from 26 to 4 depending on the amount processing that happens.
Because of this, I’ve switched to using steel cut oats for my morning breakfast and old fashion oats for baking.
Bean Pasta > Whole Wheat Pasta
This food swap is fairly straight forward. From the average Nutrient IQ scores listed above per food group, we can see that whole grains average about a 25 whereas beans average around 50. From this we can tell right away that bean pasta is likely more nutrient dense than whole wheat pasta. This turned out to be true as Dr. Fuhrman rated bean pasta a 52 and whole grain pasta a 7. Beans are a food group widely under consumed in the United States and this is worrisome because bean intake is one of the greatest nutritional predictors of longevity among the elderly. That means the more beans an elderly person consumes, the longer they’re likely to live. Beans are also linked to lower levels of cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia. With this information, each time I make a pasta dish I’m now buying a variety of different bean pastas instead of whole wheat pasta. Chickpea pasta is my favorite with black bean coming in a close second.
Tempeh > Tofu
Why choose tempeh over tofu if they’re both derived from the same soybeans? Just like my oat example above, it comes down to food processing. Tofu is made from unfermented soy milk that’s been condensed and processed into a solid white block. That’s vastly different from eating a soybean directly and why it’s Nutrient IQ score is rated a 15. Tempeh on the other hand is fermented soybeans that have been soaked, hulled, cooked and molded into a solid whitish block. As tempeh is derived directly from the soybean without a ton of processing, it’s Nutrient IQ is rated a 45! That’s a significant difference. Eating soybeans in isolation of processing are rated a 52 so there aren’t many nutrients lost by making tempeh. As mentioned earlier, the more processing a food goes through, the more nutrients the food loses along the way. It may have the same caloric values, but it’s vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals are severely diminished. That’s why just this week I’m buying a few things of tempeh to start experimenting with. It’s a less processed, healthier food swap that I’m looking forward to making.
Sweet Potatoes > White Potatoes
I don’t regularly consume white potatoes, but I do have them in breakfast hashes or dinners every so often. But Dr. Fuhrman rated them a 12 whereas sweet potatoes were rated a 45. Why is it that he so strongly recommends sweet potatoes over white potatoes? Their nutrient density and their effects on blood sugar. A serving of sweet potatoes can provide you with over 100% of your daily value of Vitamin A compared to less than 1% found in white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are also higher in Fiber, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and Calcium. On top of this, sweet potatoes have a glycemic index of around 70 compared to 111 for white potatoes. Glycemic index is a measure of how much a food affects your blood sugar levels. Since sweet potatoes are more nutrient dense, they don’t affect your blood sugar levels as much as white potatoes which is another benefit. Most people also enjoy the taste of sweet potatoes which is a bonus too. This is why I now prefer sweet potatoes over white potatoes.
Better Grains > Brown Rice
Brown rice is an unprocessed whole grain so in theory it should be healthy, right? Brown rice is nutrient dense with a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals but Dr. Fuhrman only rates it a 7. He doesn’t necessarily explain why he rated the food a 7 but I have an idea based upon several studies he mentions throughout the book. Arsenic. Brown rice is mainly grown in south-central states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. These states used to be large producers of cotton decades ago and used arsenic-based pesticides to treat their cotton plants. But it was discovered that arsenic consumption can be very toxic for humans which is why arsenic-based pesticides were later banned in the 1980’s. So, as the cotton farms in these states moved to non-arsenic pesticides and production of rice instead of cotton, their existing farm soil still had and has a high concentration of arsenic remaining. This means that as rice is grown in these same farmlands, they absorb this arsenic which we then later consume. Because of this, Dr. Fuhrman recommends alternative whole grains to brown rice like quinoa, teff, buckwheat and barley which all receive a Nutrient IQ score of 26. Therefore, I’m reducing my intake of brown rice and switching to healthier alternatives.
I’m learning a lot about the nutrient density of foods with Dr. Fuhrman’s new book and am implementing a few changes within my diet. Although I don’t consider instant oats, whole wheat pasta, tofu, white potatoes and brown rice to be unhealthy choices, I have found more nutrient dense alternatives that I’m looking to swap into my diet. Although I’m making these swaps, it’s extremely important to take Nutrient IQ scores with a grain of salt as its most important to eat a variety of whole foods that are plant-based while avoiding added salt, oil and sugar. This variety is the key to getting all the macro and micronutrients your body needs to perform at its best. So, use these Nutrient IQ scores to help gauge the foods you’re eating and try to focus more on foods with higher scores. Vegetables and beans should have a stronghold on your diet. Fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains should also have a prominent spot too. Thanks for reading and I hope I’ve helped you identify a few areas of your diet that you can improve too!
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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe
Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognitive Health, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.
- What’s the Difference Between Steel-Cut, Rolled, and Instant Oats?
- Joel Fuhrman: Beans Lead To Longer Life
- What’s the Difference Between Tempeh and Tofu, Anyways?
- What’s the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes?
- Arsenic: The Dark Side of Rice
- Eat For Life
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